The GOP Is More Cooch Than Christie — Frank Rich with the lesson from Tuesday’s election.
There is no front-runner for 2016. But the excessive valuation given by the GOP Establishment to Christie’s New Jersey landslide (against an underfinanced and pallid Democratic sacrificial lamb who was no Cory Booker) is a fascinating window into the power of denial. That Establishment is desperate to believe that the tea party is dying, that the radicals in the House cannot pull another stunt like a government shutdown, and that a restoration of centrist Republicanism is at hand. And so if you tune in to the unofficial headquarters of the Christie ’16 campaign, Morning Joe at MSNBC, Christie is not only the front-runner, he’s his party’s savior, and is within a step of two of measuring the drapes for the White House. Christie is also the great white hope of Wall Street barons, of the foreign-policy neocons, and of mainstream conservative pundits. How many of the latter have written columns recently about “what the right can learn from Chris Christie”? I lost count after Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Jennifer Rubin. The point seems to be that a gregarious Republican presidential candidate can win over blue America by putting a happy face on conservative ideology and showing up to help poor people when a natural disaster hits. In other words, though no one will say this out loud, Christie is viewed by Republican grandees as a panacea in the way George W. Bush once was — a “compassionate conservative” with crossover appeal — albeit with a touch of the bullying once admired in another blue-state Republican boosted for president by much the same crowd: Rudy Giuliani.
The only problem with this scenario is that we are not in 2000 or 2004 anymore. Today’s GOP wouldn’t nominate a Bush unless it was done in a back room by the party’s financial benefactors and the entire primary process was junked. That’s not happening. Back in the real world, Christie is manifestly unacceptable to his own party’s base: He’s for immigration reform (a stance that has already turned the GOP base against Marco Rubio, a supposed 2016 front-runner only a few months ago); he has championed gun control; and he threw in the towel on his previous opposition to gay marriage. Good luck with that in any GOP primary state outside the Acela corridor. And we’re not even factoring in the vetting issues uncovered by the Romney campaign, as reported by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin in Double Down, among them potential financial improprieties and associations with both a mysterious female aide and Bernard Madoff. Even yesterday’s New Jersey exit polls show that, the landslide notwithstanding, only 51 percent of Christie’s home-state voters think he will make a good president, only 39 percent have a favorable view of the GOP (Christie avoided the Republican brand like the toxin it is in his campaign), and that he would lose in a presidential face-off against Hillary Clinton. The notion of Christie as the GOP front-runner for 2016 is mainly a happy fantasy for those who simply don’t want to believe that the Republican party’s base is as radical, as uncompromising, and as determined as it has been ever since Obama entered the White House. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Hot Hot Hot — Lauren Collins in The New Yorker follows the trail to the hottest chili.
In recent years, “superhots”—chilis that score above 500,000 on the Scoville scale—have consumed the attention of chiliheads, who debate grow lights on Facebook (“You can overwinter with a few well-placed T-8s”), swap seeds in flat-rate boxes (Australian customs is their nemesis), and show up in droves at fiery-foods events (wares range from Kiss My Bhut hot sauce to Vanilla Heat coffee creamer). Chilis, in general, are beautiful. There is a reason no one makes Christmas lights in the shape of rutabagas. Superhots come in the brightest colors and the craziest shapes. Their names, evoking travel and conquest—Armageddon, Borg 9, Naga Morich, Brain Strain—sound as though they were made up by the evil twins of the people who brand body lotions. Trinidad 7-Pots are so called because it’s said that one of them is enough to season seven pots of stew.
Like computers, superhots are evolving at a rate that embarrasses the phenomena of just a few years ago. In 1992, Jane and Michael Stern observed, in this magazine, that five thousand Scoville units “would be considered very hot by most people, but even that is piddling compared with the blistering fury of the habanero pepper, which can reach three hundred thousand.” (The Scoville test originally measured how many drops of sugar water it would take to dilute the heat of a chili; pungency is now determined more reliably by high-performance liquid chromatography, whose results can still be reported in Scoville units.) From 1994 to 2007, the Red Savina—a scarlet, heart-shaped pod rating 570,000 SHU—held the Guinness World Record for hottest chili pepper. Then the bhut jolokia, the existence of which had been whispered about for years among chiliheads, as though it were a vegetable Loch Ness monster, surfaced on the international scene. In 2000, R. K. R. Singh, a scientist at a Ministry of Defense research laboratory in Assam, India, where the bhut jolokia is widely grown, submitted some samples for analysis. The test results, which indicated that it was significantly more powerful than the Red Savina, made their way to Paul Bosland, a professor of horticulture and former sauerkraut expert who, for the past twenty-two years, has run the Chile Pepper Institute, at New Mexico State University. Bosland was skeptical of the Indian scientists’ numbers, but he managed to obtain some bhut jolokia seeds, which he grew into plants. In January of 2007, he filed with Guinness, which awarded the C.P.I.’s bhut jolokia (1,001,300 SHU) the new world record.
In February of 2011, Guinness confirmed that the Infinity chili, grown in Lincolnshire, England, by a former R.A.F. security guard, had surpassed the bhut jolokia by more than sixty-five thousand SHU. Only two weeks later, a Cumbrian farmer named Gerald Fowler introduced the Naga Viper. At 1,382,118 SHU, it was, Fowler said, “hot enough to strip paint.” He told reporters, “We’re absolutely, absolutely chuffed. Everyone complains about the weather and rain here in Cumbria, but we think it helped us breed the hottest chili.” He posed for the Daily Mail wearing a sombrero.
Florida’s Slow Growth — Fred Grimm on the glacial pace of marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State.
I live in Florida, where the state leadership pretends public sentiment about marijuana hasn’t evolved since the days when young Republicans were grooving to The Captain & Tennille on their eight-track cartridges.
Last spring, in a burst of drug-war nostalgia, the Legislature passed a quaint throw-back law (32-2 in the Senate, 112-3 in the House) that outlawed sales of bongs and water pipes. In fact, selling any smoking device is now illegal in Florida other than a pipe “that is primarily made of briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob.” Which is such a peculiar specification, it was as if legislators were puffing SleeStax X Skunk before the vote.
Meanwhile, 20 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, eleven of those by statewide referendum. Most of those passed by more than a 60 percent margin. Perhaps something similar could happen in Florida, given that we’re stuck with the most arthritic, oh-my-aching-back/knees/elbows electorate in the western world. A group called United for Care has collected 200,000 names on a petition toward the 683,149 needed by Feb. 1 to get a medical marijuana initiative on the statewide ballot next fall.
This has not pleased the state’s attorney general, speaker of the House and president of the Senate, who have demanded that the Florida Supreme Court keep this measure away from the voters. Senate President Don Gaetz complained the pot petition appealed “to voters by using language that evokes emotional responses [that] are not appropriate for ballot titles and summaries of proposed constitutional amendments.”
Gaetz knows something about misleading ballot initiatives. As the Herald’s Rochelle Koff pointed out, Gaetz was one of the architects of a blatant misnomer called the “Health Freedom Act,” which was designed to torpedo the Affordable Care Act. Last year, the state Supreme Court said the Health Freedom act was misleading and needed to be rewritten. It was. And voters rejected it.
Opponents of medical marijuana in Florida now have a new reason to be worried. On Tuesday, 64 percent of the voters in the Miami Beach municipal election favored legalizing medical marijuana. Granted, the ballot question was a non-binding straw vote, but as my colleague Marc Caputo noted, medical pot received 1,000 more votes than Philip Levine, the winning candidate for mayor. Unlike for Levine, no recount was necessary.
Doonesbury — History lesson.